By CATHY ARONSON
Businessman David Braithwaite has snatched the Hamilton mayoralty from one-term incumbent Russ Rimmington.
In what had been tipped as a tight race, Mr Braithwaite cruised to victory by 7688, reversing the result of three years ago when Mr Rimmington thrashed him by about 9000.
Mr Braithwaite, a Hamilton business and civic stalwart, is one of four new mayors in the Waikato following the local body elections. The others are Peter Harris in Waikato District, Alan Livingston in Waipa and Allan Andrews in Waitomo.
In Hamilton, Mr Braithwaite follows his father, Roderick Braithwaite, who was Hamilton Mayor for two terms from 1953 to 1959, and his mother, Kathleen, who was councillor from 1962 to 1974 and served as deputy mayor.
But despite this family tradition, it has taken the 64-year-old three attempts to inherit the mayoral robes. But this time it was different, and even Mr Braithwaite was surprised he won by such a large margin.
Over the past three years, Mr Rimmington had become a constant critic of Mr Braithwaite's role as chairman of the $38 million Waikato Stadium Trust.
On Saturday, Mr Rimmington was visibly upset by his loss.
He said that in his term as mayor he resolved a basket of inherited problems: the casino - which he fought, and lost in the Court of Appeal; the stadium - which is due for completion early next year; and the transport centre and a new sewage system.
But, he admits, "I might have over-cooked it, done too much too fast, offended too many people."
The new Hamilton City Council includes former veteran and community policeman John Gower, television garden show presenter Bill Ward and former Kiwi Air boss and convicted fraudster Ewan Wilson.
Mr Wilson was once the darling of the city with his cut-price airline but the venture collapsed.
In neighbouring Waikato District, Mr Harris has jumped from deputy to mayor, replacing Angus Macdonald, who retired after 12 years in the job.
Mr Harris faces a rocky start to the term as the Environment Court decision on the Hampton Downs landfill is due to be released and an application for a 650-bed men's prison is due to be lodged.
In Waipa, Mr Livingston, a 49-year-old farmer, takes over the top job from two-term mayor John Hewitt, who retired.
In Waitomo, retired policeman Allan Andrews won the mayoralty, replacing Steve Parry. In neighbouring Otorohanga, incumbent mayor Eric Tait was elected unopposed for a third term.
Thames Coromandel Mayor Chris Lux kept his job despite a rocky first term.
In Hauraki, Basil Morrison enters his fifth term as mayor with all of the councillors voted back in.
In Matamata Piako, Hugh Vercoe is back but in Ruapehu, Sue Morris beat incumbent Weston Kirton.
Local Government New Zealand
By CATHY ARONSON